Posts Tagged ‘George Catlin’

At first, the idea of my pregnancy was humbling.  Not only is pregnancy so common, so easily achieved, but my body had gone and done something unbeknownst (and despite) my brain.  For all my heady reasoning to remain without children, for all my plans and intellectual presentiments, my body had done what it was programmed to do.  Working from a primitive level, my body trumped my mind (not to mention my IUD).  That egg sucked up that sperm.  Those cells divided and then divided again.  Meanwhile, above, oblivious and mistakenly considered in control, my mind, my thoughts, my mouth tickered on:  blah, blah, blah.

Not only had my body won, but after offering a few generous spurts of estrogen, pregesteron, and human chorionic gonadotropin, my brain ceded control.  My of-mice-and-men planning accepted its futility and sighed with intoxicated maternal release.  I saw what looked like a microscopic peanut on a computer screen and whispered, “Awwww…”

When I was a kid, I really liked animals.  I was curious about their odd faces, elaborate body structures and colorful skins.  I looked at picture books and imagined myself a zebra, a squirrel, a great blue whale.  I sang songs and mimed their appropriate gestures.  I dreamt of animals.  I looked for them and when I found them, I stared, I ogled, excitement creeping up my legs and tingling my fingers.  Look there!  A bird!  Listen to it sing! . . .  Wow.

The “but now” follow up is so predictable, it feels almost unnecessary.  I grew up.  Life sped up.  My interests and focus changed.

But now.  But now there is a new but now.  I am pregnant, but now.  I have a new found respect for my body, my instincts and all that my body is made/programmed/evolved (pick your word) to do.

The more my body assumes center stage, the more aware I am of myself as an animal, as a mammal, in particular.  This belly, which so often feels like a pouch protects a baby human.  I will soon give birth, like so many other creatures.  That baby human will drink the milk my body produces.  Meanwhile, I prepare my house and discover a new found interest in cooking (they call it the “nesting instinct”–many animal mothers experience it).

I was humbled at first, but now I am honored to assume my station in the greater kaleidoscope of earthly life.

Feeling abnormally inspired and excited about animals, I flipped through the pages of a couple of art history books (coffee table books) in pursuit of fine art exploring their assorted images.  This task proved more difficult than I thought.

These academic art bibles offered nothing as far as contemporary art is concerned.  I had to peel back pages spanning a few hundred years before I found a sufficient amount of material.  With scientific scrutiny and formidable skill, John James Audubon produced canvases filled with birds, while Sir Edwin Landseer painted  dogs and George Catlin his hunted and dying buffalo.  Despite these men’s obvious adeptness, I could not help but think the paintings belonged in a preteen girl’s bedroom or in the lobby of L.L. Bean.

The reason why rendering a seriously artful animal is so difficult parallels the reason why writing about the motherhood experience (as art) is so difficult–both subjects are associated with sentiment, and thus fall prey to sentiment’s tawdry classifications.

When I write of sentiment, I write about emotional idealism. Emotional idealism is untruthful, due to its simplicity (i.e. all children are sweet and innocent, the homeless just need a hug and a couple hundred dollars). Because emotional idealism, or sentiment is untruthful, it is the enemy of good art. Good art does not stop at cliche. It does not air brush or gloss. Good art pushes and prods (with words, paint, movement, concept, etc.) to the raw, untempered core.

Sir Edwin Landseer, Dignity and Impudence

I can easily imagine Sir Edwin Landseer’s Dignity and Impudence decorating the pages of an office wall calendar.

The wild, ungovernable realm in which our bodies live (and die), alongside other mammals, birds,reptiles, amphibians, insects, etc., is so vast, so intimidatingly out of our control, it is easier to gloss.  How could we ever take the time to not only understand but make peace with their world (which is, as it turns out, our world, too)?

We all know the urgency of our receding wilderness and the importance of salvaging it.  As artists, we must incorporate all this unruly nature into our art.  Through our explorations, we help to raise collective awareness and appreciation.  As a woman who is pregnant who is surprised to find herself relating more and more to this recalcitrant, animalistic province,

I just might be in a perfect position to accomplish aforementioned goals.

George Stubbs was a painter from the mid eighteenth century.  He painted horses, lions, giraffes and monkeys. He also illustrated the official Textbook on Midwifery.  I do not think this pairing is coincidental.

My grandfather was an alcoholic.  He told my mother (who suffered from anxiety disorder) to get out of her head.  He repeated it over and over again, “Get out of your head!  Get out of your head!”  It became a small mantra, and she repeated it to me (who has, in various forms, inherited my parents’ sins as the scripture says).  There is much wisdom in this pithy and deceivingly simple command.

On the few occasions I have met professional animal caretakers (at zoos, natural reserves, etc.) I left marvelling over their exuberance, childlike wonder and undying curiosity.  Take your average wildlife television show host.  Who can blame them for their clean joy?  They are enchanted by it, entrenched inside of it–that ever surprising, unable to be tamed, enduring, and beautiful world we all have access to via our bodies.

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